Research School Network: Let’s talk about ​‘the gap’ … A reflection on the current attainment gap and how we will work this year to support schools.

Let’s talk about ​‘the gap’ …

A reflection on the current attainment gap and how we will work this year to support schools.

by Research Schools Network
on the

Alicia McKenna is an experienced secondary school senior leader and teacher of French and German. She is the newly appointed Director of Training and Research at Shotton Hall Research School.

In our first blog of the new academic year, we reflect on why a tight focus on the disadvantaged gap is more important than ever, as well as how, as a Research School, we will focus our work this year to support the most vulnerable pupils in our region and beyond.

The summer headlines hit the North East hard, with the data showing a widening regional gap, leaving teachers and leaders throughout the region questioning themselves and their practice, wondering why our pupils are being left behind their southern counterparts. These headlines reflect the widespread view that schools in the North are somehow failing their pupils.

To put this into perspective, the North East recorded the lowest proportion of GCSE grades at 7/A or above (17.6 percent), while London boasted the highest proportion (28.4 percent). This represents a substantial gap of 10.8 percentage points, an increase from the 9.3 percent observed in 2019 (as reported by TES).

Stephen Gorard’sgreatresponse to the data brought some helpful clarification and hope for North East teachers and leaders alike. In his piece for the TES, Professor Gorard of Durham University explained that the best evidence, which compares like with like, suggests that schools in the North produce comparable outcomes to schools in the South, for equivalent pupils.

The key issue in the North East, Gorard points out, is that disadvantaged pupils are dispersed across the region rather than concentrated in a few specific schools. This means that addressing disadvantage is, or at least should be, at the top of everyone’s priorities.

Moving the goalposts and changing the teams

With a tightening of standards from Ofqual and a cost-of-living crisis, the landscape is looking bleaker than ever for our pupils in the North. Beyond pupils identified as Pupil Premium, schools also have the job of identifying and supporting disadvantaged pupils who don’t qualify for Pupil Premium funding. The unfortunate reality is that soaring interest rates and an increased cost of living means many more pupils are currently living below the poverty line.

Here at Shotton Hall Research School, we are committed to an evidence-informed approach to closing the attainment gap for children in the North East and beyond. We are dedicating our work this year to supporting schools to ensure that all pupils have access to the highest quality education. We’ll be using the latest evidence to inform the exemplification of best bets, using the EEF’s tiered model for school planning and, as ever, we’ll have a relentless focus on reading. We’ll be providing case studies from schools bucking the trend, and guides to support teachers and leaders.

Closing this gap isn’t just a goal: it’s a promise of equal opportunities for every child. Every child gets just one chance at school, and they deserve the best we can offer them, until we know better. It’s our job to identify the so-called best bets’ and support leaders and teachers with effective implementation of them.

Sign up for our newsletter to follow our journey to empower schools to support disadvantaged pupils and have access to evidence-informed best bets’ for your schools!

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